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The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose for the third straight week, a sign that the highly contagious delta variant may be slowing a recovery in the job market.
Claims rose unexpectedly by 11,000 last week to 362,000, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. Economists had been expecting claims to go in the opposite direction.
The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week ups and downs, rose for the first time in seven weeks to 340,000.
Since topping 900,000 in early January, applications had fallen fairly steadily as the economy bounced back from last year's shutdowns. But they've been rising along with coronavirus infections.
The applications, which are a proxy for layoff estimates, remain elevated. Before the pandemic hit the United States hard in March 2020, they typically were coming in at around 220,000 a week.
Iowa Workforce Development on Thursday recorded 1,719 initial jobless claims — a drop of 74 requests from the previous week — while continuing applications continued their slide, from 10,544 last week to 10,156.
Linn County listed 142 new claims, a decline of 16 from a week earlier — and Johnson County had 62, which is small uptick from 53 from the previous week.
America’s employers have rapidly increased their hiring since they slashed 22 million jobs in March and April 2020 as the coronavirus outbreak — and the shutdowns meant to contain it — brought economic activity to a near-standstill.
Since then, the economy has recovered about 17 million jobs as businesses to open or expand hours and Americans to return to bars, restaurants and hotels.
Altogether, 2.8 million Americans were receiving some type of jobless aid the week of Sept. 18, down by 18,000 from the week before.
Earlier this month, the federal government stopped additional aid — including $300 a week on top of traditional state benefits — that was meant to ease the economic effects of the pandemic.